23 september 2009

India's headline-grabbing negotiator brings new pragmatism to table

By Amy Kazmin in New Delhi, Financial Times, September 23 2009

Jairam Ramesh, India's voluble environment minister, hit global headlines when he told Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, India had no obligation to cut its greenhouse gas emissions - and that Washington had a "crisis of credibility" on climate change, writes Amy Kazmin in New Delhi .

Days later, his reputation for recalcitrance was amplified when he questioned scientific studies warning that Himalayan glaciers were melting faster owing to global warming.

But for all his headline- grabbing posturing, Mr Ramesh is no climate change denier. In a country that has long disavowed any obligation to take steps to combat global warming, Mr Ramesh is the first cabinet minister to speak seriously about the threat to India's environment and economy.

Since taking over the climate portfolio in May, Mr Ramesh has also challenged New Delhi's climate change orthodoxy to insist India's national interest demands urgent action to control greenhouse gas emissions.

"What Jairam Ramesh is doing is what a responsible politician should have done 10 years ago, which is to see the future," said Malini Mehra, founder of the Centre for Social Markets, which advocates stronger action on global warming. "He has fundamentally changed the political rhetoric."

Mr Ramesh has brought a new pragmatism, flexibility and creativity to global talks. In a subtle shift of India's position, he has suggested in recent days that New Delhi could potentially agree to "implicit" carbon emissions targets by adopting laws at home.

He argues India should not bear responsibility for cutting the "stock" of existing greenhouse gases but he acknowledges it must regulate "the flow" of future emissions. "Just because we draw attention to the hypocrisy of the west doesn't mean we aren't conscious of our own responsibilities," he says.

Read the full interview with Mr Ramesh at

>>> Back to list